March 1, 2001

Pushing the Consultation Process Forward

Elsewhere in these pages (see p8), we cover the Court Service’s paper, Modernising the Civil Courts. I was unable there to resist the temptation to urge SCL members to contribute to the consultation process. It is a message that bears repeating.

It is tempting to see that Paper as something of a triumph for SCL thinking since there is a clear pattern of embracing technology in most areas. But the danger is that a host of less enlightened views will act to stall the process (I doubt that there is any real danger of the process being defeated) and also that more radical and far-reaching reforms involving IT will not be sufficiently championed. The conviction and weight of the SCL contribution will be greatly reinforced if a large number of SCL members involve themselves in this process and push it forward.


Consultation and response have been something of a theme over the last two months for SCL. The Knowledge Management Working Group responded promptly and most constructively to the Lord Chancellor’s Department’s Consultation Paper which was concerned to promote common standards for metadata for Web sites in the legal and advice sectors. This and a further consultation exercise on Web site standards have particular significance and are likely to affect the Web sites of many SCL members and in the future may well determine the way in which Web sites must be structured and tagged.

Time has moved quickly in this specialised field. The full text of the Consultation Paper, the SCL response and the report following the responses are all available via the SCL Web site. I confess that I had reservations about the Lord Chancellor’s Department’s capacity to fulfil its stated aim of producing a metadata scheme which is both widely accepted in the legal and advice communities and capable of covering the vast area which legal and advice sites cover. It may be that the speed at which the response has been produced gives force to the argument that my fears were groundless, although the consultation comments were limited so that the process of analysis was not onerous.

Neutral Citation

The journey to full and affective access to all primary legal information on the Web is a lengthy one. Another giant stride on that journey was made in January with the publication of Practice Direction (Judgments: Form and Citation), published in The Times on 15 January. That Practice Direction sets out a series of important changes such as a numbering system for High Court and Court of Appeal judgments and paragraph numbering within judgments. The Practice Direction was the subject of considerable celebration in the Eastham household (not just toast but crumpets too). It will, once it enters the general consciousness and is fully acknowledged by all the legal publishers, transform the way in which we refer to judgments and will make searching, ordering and numbering of judgments much easier. It will also have an interesting side-effect, inevitably we will come to use that format immediately for unreported judgments, in so far as the phrase ‘unreported judgment’ still has a meaning in the days of access to the vast majority of judgments online.

All those involved with producing the Practice Direction are worthy of congratulation.


My wanderings through the latest IT and law exhibition (Legal IT in February) left me with a number of impressions which are probably worthy of a longer article once the exhibition season is over and I have visited more. However, I was particularly struck by the split which appears to be developing between the suppliers’ perception of the usefulness of ASP and a general suspicion on the part of those who would be at the receiving end (and the paying end) of that service. I would very like to encourage debate within these pages on these matters and readers will note that the arguments in favour of ASP are put forward in an article in this issue. If, as suggested by independent market research conducted on behalf of Keystone Solutions, 92% of law firms are currently reluctant to adopt an ASP solution, then no amount of push from suppliers will make a great deal of difference. I am an agnostic on the issue but do detect the possibility that law firms’ doubts will be overwhelmed eventually by the widespread adoption of ASP in the wider commercial field. If we are out of step it may not matter, but it is as well to have a thorough and frank debate at this relatively early stage if at all possible and I do encourage anyone with a strongly held view on the matter to contribute to the magazine or Web page.